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Thursday, June 13, 2024
The Observer

Autistic learns ADHD

For today’s column, I wanted to finally place ADHD at the forefront. For me, the main difficulty with writing a full article about ADHD was general nervousness about misrepresenting or misunderstanding aspects of others’ experiences. Eventually, I determined that I could alleviate this concern by interviewing one of my friends from the Liturgical Choir who has ADHD. We had already had some previous conversations at “choir dinners” where we had discussed our experiences with neurodivergence, so I felt like she would be a great resource for learning more about the experiences of those with ADHD. Fortunately for me, she obliged, and we met in the comfortable third-floor Coleman-Morse lounge for a conversation. 

I began by asking her what she thought were some of the misconceptions people had about ADHD. Right away, she identified the common trope of individuals with ADHD as lazy and unmotivated, as if ADHD was simply an excuse for not getting things done. Responding to these harmful stereotypes, she pointed out how most people do not recognize the specific obstacles folks with ADHD face. For example, she described the challenge of time blindness, in which someone doesn’t “feel” a deadline until it’s right upon her. Another obstacle she identified was how she struggled to start tasks because there were so many that she had to complete. Both examples helped me to recognize how I’ve taken my ability to plan tasks well in advance for granted, as I hadn’t given enough thought to how some people’s minds might have to work harder to accomplish the same goal. Internally, I connected this to my experience with autism, as people might not recognize how much more work I have to do to participate in social settings, something others might not view as challenging at all. 

After mentioning these more general stereotypes, she then also reflected on some misconnections she’s encountered as a woman with ADHD. She referred to the underdiagnosis of women with ADHD, something that I was familiar with. We discussed this situation of how neurodivergent women, whether they are autistic, have ADHD or have a different condition, are often dismissed whenever they outwardly struggle to adapt to neurotypical standards. She then described the stereotype of women with ADHD as “ditzy,” an example of how negative perceptions of ADHD can intersect with misogynistic tropes. We both emphasized the need for more inclusive diagnostic criteria that could ensure that neurodivergent women, along with minority groups who face similar obstacles, obtain the resources they need and deserve. 

She then spoke about how, in her view, the University’s current accommodations for those with ADHD were somewhat lacking. Specifically, she felt like too many of the accessibility measures were focused on providing extra time for assignments and tests. Extensions didn’t necessarily help her because they didn’t address the fundamental challenges of time blindness, as it would just move the stress point of a deadline to a future date, rather than alleviating the primary source of the stress. We likened this strategy to someone moving further down the train tracks when she hears that a train is moving — even if it takes a little longer, the train will still come.

When I asked if she had any solutions in mind for this dilemma, she admitted that it was difficult to come up with any specific ones. For her, making these educational processes more inclusive for people with ADHD would necessitate a more fundamental rethinking of how assignments and tests are designed. Eventually, we approached something that resembled a solution. We discussed how educators at Notre Dame could work proactively with students with ADHD to help them develop planning habits, such as looking at a syllabus and creating a detailed planner. Given how energy-intensive planning can be for those with ADHD, having someone assist in a collaborative manner is not only helpful but necessary in many cases. More generally, we determined that process-driven approaches would be superior to deadline-driven approaches. 

Finally, she brought up the challenges that people with ADHD face in terms of over-stimulation, something that I could deeply empathize with. She described living with ADHD as always having a “ton of tabs open” in her brain, a phenomenon that especially occurred in locations with multiple sights and sounds. As someone who also occasionally struggles with overstimulation, I felt validated, and we proceeded to laugh in disbelief of all the people who study in Duncan Student Center (seriously though, how do you all do it?). 

This conversation not only gave me incredible insight, making me aware of terminology that helps to explain the ADHD experience, but it also demonstrated the importance of neurodivergent people having open forums to discuss their stories with other neurodivergent individuals. My friend stated that she felt more comfortable talking with me about ADHD than with many of her other peers at Notre Dame. I agreed. We need spaces for collaborative neurodivergent storytelling, not only to discuss the challenges we’ve encountered but also to demonstrate pride in who we are.

Jack Griffiths is a senior at Notre Dame majoring in English with a supplementary major in global affairs. His areas of interest include neurodivergence, migration and the intersections between faith and public policy. When he’s not writing, you can find him singing with the Liturgical Choir, walking around the lakes or playing Super Smash Bros with folks in his dorm. He can be reached at jgriff22@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.